Leesburg Church Law Attorney
The Leesburg church law attorneys of Simms Showers LLP has extensive experience providing counsel to churches and related entities. The firm assists churches located across the east coast, including Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and North Carolina, as well as advises churches across the nation.
Read more about the areas in which the firm specializes and how we can provide service to your organization:
- Tax Exempt issues, IRS regulations, and Tax Court Disputes Land Use, Zoning, and Property Development and Acquisition
- Legal Risk Management
- Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
- Child Sexual Abuse Prevention and Defense
- International Law
- Church Employment
Although churches are allowed to incorporate in almost every state, the Commonwealth of Virginia only recently joined the national trend in 2006, when it changed its State Constitution to allow churches to incorporate to comport with a successful challenge in Falwell v. Commonwealth of VA in 2002, in which our firm helped prevail for Dr. Falwell and Thomas Road Baptist Church. Our firm has incorporated numerous churches of all sizes and denominational affiliations throughout North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. We have the experience and resources to help tailor the incorporation process to each church’s needs in a timely and cost efficient manner. More importantly, our firm is sensitive to governance, theological, and the liturgical preference needs of each church, and we tailor our incorporation process to fit.
If you are interested in getting more information about the church incorporation process, please contact the NOVA branch of our firm, or fill out an introductory Incorporation Questionnaire to get started.
Tax Exempt issues, IRS regulations, and Tax Court Disputes
Even the most conscientious church can unwittingly run afoul of the myriad of restrictions the IRS places on tax-exempt organizations. In addition, the constantly changing political and legal landscapes post a threat to many of the IRS protections and exemptions that churches have taken for granted in the past.
Our firm has extensive experience navigating these requirements and keeping abreast of current changes, and we have represented numerous churches in front of the IRS and various tax courts. We have handled issues ranging from maintaining 501(c)(3) status, to defending churches charged with alleged political activity, to ensuring that the IRS maintains exemptions to which churches are entitled under current law. If the IRS has challenged your tax exempt status, or if you just need advice on how to achieve your ministry goals without inviting IRS scrutiny, our firm can provide the needed counsel and risk management to protect your organization and eliminate, or mitigate the harm to your organization.
Land Use, Zoning, and Property Development and Acquisition
Property development and acquisition can be a large part of a church’s growth and ministry. It can also be a very complicated decision, often fraught with unexpected costs and hassles. Increasing regulatory further complicates the process and zoning roadblocks established by local governments, especially in crowded areas like Northern Virginia. On top of the general issues incumbent in any building project, tax exempt entities have to consider specific issues related to their tax-exempt status. Our firm has extensive experience handling these issues. We help clients negotiate property purchase agreements and navigate the tricky waters of due diligence issues, such as environmental and zoning issues. We also help clients through the process of constructing a new building, including reviewing and drafting contract agreements for architects, engineers, and general contractors. For those clients who are renting properties for their church or ministry activities, we assist with drafting leases, achieving and maintaining church-specific property exemptions, and negotiating details of the rental arrangement most amenable to our clients’ activities.
Legal Risk Management
The old adage, “the best defense is a good offense,” is aptly applied in the area of risk management. Many litigation and IRS disputes could have been prevented, or at least mitigated, with effective policies, wise counsel, and issue awareness. Many times, churches are surprised by the liabilities they incur: “what you don’t know hurts you the most.” Our firm’s experience with litigation helps us to identify weak spots in your risk management, work with you to create a strategy and make decisions that will help shield you for years to come from avoidable litigation and disputes.
We provide risk management services and counsel in a variety of church law areas of need, including some of the following:
- Corporate structure and asset protection
- Tax-exempt fundraising policies and strategy
- Employment and volunteer policies and firing/hiring decisions
- Employment non-discrimination, including emerging issues like sexual orientation
- Child sexual abuse prevention, including policies and training
- Religious exemptions
- Property exemptions
Litigation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Despite the fact that a good offense is the best defense, it is essential for every church to have legal counsel experienced and ready to litigate zealously on their behalf. Our firm has successfully defended and litigated on behalf of churches in both state and federal courts on numerous risk management and related matters, as well as helped conclude many successful alternative dispute resolution proceedings. Below is a sampling of the types of matters we have encountered in court (these samplings do not guarantee identical or similar results and are only representative and illustrative):
- Long Lane v. Cornerstone Chapel et. al. (2012) where we prevailed at the Virginia Supreme Court on behalf of the church on a land use case of first impression in Virginia that allowed the church to build on their land despite the zoning and land use attacks.
- Riverdale Baptist Church v. Anne Arundel County et. al. (2011) in a RLUIPA (religious land use and discrimination) Maryland federal court case where we won the right for the church school and plant to develop its property after a 4 week trial which resulted in a Consent Judgment and large monetary award to the church including attorney fees and costs.
- Leesburg Pike Community Church v. Harbor View Contractors et. al. (2009-2010) series of arbitrations and collections that resulted in successful litigation against construction contractors who did not fulfill the building contracts.
Child Sexual Abuse Prevention and Defense
In today’s culture, addressing this sad issue openly and effectively is a must for churches. Although child sexual victimization has been on the rise in recent years, the Christian community has in many instances remained ignorant, uninformed, and unprepared, often through no fault of their own. Our firm has extensive experience helping churches change their perspective on these issues and become equipped with well-defined policies, open discussions, and effective training. We also help assess and prepare for assimilation of sex offenders into church and religious nonprofits where thousands of Christian converts are coming out of prison for sex offenses and need a Christian community but pose a great potential threat.
Unfortunately, some churches are not able to take these preventative steps before they find themselves facing the spiritual, emotional, and legal nightmare of responding to an incident or an allegation of child abuse. Our firm has worked with these churches to help them understand their liabilities and to address both the victim and the perpetrator in a God-honoring, prudent manner. We are well-equipped to help churches respond to these allegations either through defense litigation or settlement as well as to assist victims get the help needed to heal and move forward with their lives.
In an increasingly globalized market, and especially in the interest of spreading the Gospel around the world, many churches are seeking ways to expand their ministry outside the United States, through short-term mission trips, partnerships with overseas non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and financial support of local believers ministering to their country. These ministries implicate a variety of new regulations and restrictions, including IRS codes, banking restrictions, and national security interests. Our firm has worked with churches to help them achieve ministry goals overseas and comply with OFAC regulations, IRS rules on donations and fundraising for a foreign NGO, and business activity in foreign countries.
These ministries implicate a variety of new regulations and restrictions, including IRS codes, banking restrictions, and national security interests. Our firm has worked with churches to help them achieve ministry goals overseas and comply with OFAC regulations, IRS rules on donations and fundraising for a foreign NGO, and business activity in foreign countries.
One of the biggest ways that churches accomplish their ministry and other goals is through the work of employees and volunteers. As a result, legal advice in this area is crucial, as employment practices and decisions can significantly (and sometimes unexpectedly) impact the organization’s tax-exempt status, corporate liability and financial stability. Church insurers state that the majority of the law suits and claims come in the employment area and expert legal advice is needed to avoid the serious problems. While churches are entitled to many special exemptions under employment law, many of these exemptions are nuanced and tricky to claim and maintain. Our firmhelps churches navigate these complicated waters in a variety of matters, including religious hiring and firing, disciplining employees, investigating allegations of abuse or harassment, providing ADA accommodations where not exempted, complying with FLSA overtime and pay requirements, negotiating severance packages in sensitive termination situations, fighting unemployment compensation proceedings, setting up and maintaining ministerial and clergy housing allowances, maintaining church 403(b) non-ERISA pension plans, and negotiating settlement agreements.